Yesterday I told you how Voices in the Walls began, then stalled. Part of the problem lies in what I would call my philosophy of fiction, if I were inclined toward formality and talked like a critic.
I don’t think first in terms of plot and action. Before I know the details of my story, I get to know my main character. I get to know his strengths and – more importantly – his weaknesses. I don’t care as much how he is going to get from A to B, as I care why he wants to get from A to B.
Of course, that isn’t the whole story or I would be writing sermons instead of novels. How a character achieves his goals, or fails to achieve them, is the backbone of fiction. I work very hard to make the plot move forward through scenes which are both exciting and believable. But that is the job of day to day writing. I don’t want to know the details of what is going to happen the my people too far in advance.
I usually know generally where my novel is going, and I know exactly why it is going there. I know in some detail the events of the next few chapters, but the rest of the story is as much a surprise to me as it is to my characters.
Did I mention that I rewrite a lot?
My main character, Matt Williams is a personal surrogate. That’s a bit more than saying that he is based on my personal experiences. He exists to work out the same issues I had to work out when I was his age.
My personal story – on the surface anyway – would freeze me at the keyboard, unable to type because of sheer boredom. The issues that moved me, however, are important. I can off load them onto Matt, then dump him into the last days of peace just before the beginning of the Civil War, and now we’ll have a story people will read.
As I explained Monday over in A Writing Life, I was raised white in a white town, with no black people in sight. I had no opinions of my own on race, but the opinions around me were all negative. When the civil rights movement began, what I saw on television convinced me that everyone around me was wrong, and the black people were right.
That’s a story worth a novel, but not the kind of novel I write. I lived it, but I wouldn’t want to read it.
Dumping it onto Matt Williams’ head, however, changes everything.
Enough chit chat for now. Tomorrow we’ll look at the prolog to Voices, and talk more later. more tomorrow